“The strike lines are still up,” Alex Terrazas, United Steelworkers Local 937 union president, told the Militant by phone March 23. Terrazas, a worker at Asarco’s Mission Mine near Tucson, Arizona, was referring to the strike by 1,700 copper miners in Arizona and Texas against the mining bosses’ union-busting drive. “We are continuing to fight this corporate tyrant.”
In October members of the Steelworkers, Teamsters and five other unions went on strike after voting 77% to reject the company’s demands. These included jacking up health care costs, extending the decadelong wage freeze for most workers, freezing pensions and restricting the unions’ right to protect workers on the job.
Miners picket 24/7 at the company’s three open-pit mines — Mission, Ray and Silver Bell — and the smelter in Hayden, Arizona, and refinery in Amarillo, Texas. They’ve won a steady stream of solidarity from working people and local small businesses.
Spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. has had an effect on the strike. “We cut back to 10 people max at the picket lines,” Terrazas said. “We stopped the regular Sunday dinners at the Mission Mine picket line and the Friday night dinners and movie showings at the Silver Bell Mine.”
These were events that drew strikers, their families and supporters together every week. Strikers and their supporters continue to get together on the picket lines, many at a regular time slot, he said.
The impact of the virus has also affected the strikers’ food pantries, especially the run on essential products at stores in smaller cities, where the mines are located. The food pantry in Kearny, Arizona, closed March 16 after available grocery supplies dwindled. The pantry in the Tucson area is still open, but short on many needed items.
Asarco has maintained some production with workers who have crossed the picket lines, replacement workers, nonunion contractors and supervisors.
Terrazas noted that with less experienced workers a fire broke out at the Mission Mine Feb. 19, slowing down production.
At the refinery in Amarillo “the company is trying to make coils out of copper from the mines in Arizona but it hasn’t worked out very well,” Leonardo Segura, vice president of USW Local 5613, told the Militant by phone March 24. Segura is a worker on strike there. “About three weeks back we heard a big boom. The second cooler in the rod line messed up on them.” Segura said strikers are maintaining picket lines of two to five people.
In March, Asarco paid $33,000 in fines to the Environmental Protection Agency for releasing dust containing lead, arsenic and other hazardous pollutants at the Hayden smelter in 2015. The EPA reported that industries in Arizona released 170 million pounds of toxic chemicals and heavy metals in 2018. That year eight of the state’s top 10 ranked releases came from copper mines and smelters.
The American Federation of Teachers union at Seattle community colleges voted March 3 to send a $400 contribution to the strike fund along with a message of support to the strikers.
Send financial contributions and solidarity messages to USW Local 915 Strike Assistance, P.O. Box 550, Kearny, AZ 85137; USW Local 5252 Strike Assistance, P.O. Box 896, Kearny, AZ 85137; USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, TX 79108; or via paypal.me/palfcommunityservice for Tucson-area strikers. Solidarity messages can be sent to email@example.com. Contribute to the food pantries at: USW 915 and 886 hall, 107 Hammond Dr., Kearny; IBEW Local 570 hall, 750 S. Tucson Blvd., Tucson; USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, Texas.
Deborah Liatos contributed to this article.